Riding a season-high 10-game winning streak, the USF softball team will play five games this week in New Jersey.
The Bulls (27-15, 7-0) will open with a doubleheader against Rutgers on Thursday before meeting Seton Hall for a three-game set beginning Saturday. Though coach Ken Eriksen’s team is currently undefeated in Big East play, he said he knows the pitfalls of playing familiar conference opponents.
“It’s conference (play),” Eriksen said. “There are some teams that can beat other teams just by (playing) because they’ve played each other so many times in the past.”
Rutgers swept Seton Hall in a three-game series last weekend, outscoring the Pir- ates 22-6. The Scarlet Knights (16-21, 4-5) are on a six-game win streak after starting 0-5 in Big East play. Seton Hall (12-24, 0-11) is still looking for its first conference win of the season after 11 straight losses.
The Bulls hope to keep their hot streak alive, but Eriksen said he fears the youthfulness of the team may lead it to become complacent.
“If you start focusing on the big picture, you’re done,” Eriksen said. “You’ve got to win the battle in front of you. If people are going to pat us on the back and we listen to the pats on the back, we’re in trouble. We have to keep this all in perspective right now.”
In the shadow of dominant pitching, the Bulls bats have gotten hot during the streak.
The Bulls’ lead-off hitter, junior Gina Kafalas, leads the team with a .454 batting average, with three other USF players batting more than .300 during this double-digit win streak.
“We have to continue to be aggressive in certain offensive situations,” Eriksen said. “Continue to take advantage of what the pitcher is giving us and not trying to do things the pitcher is trying to make us do.”
The defense has undergone some player position changes after starting catcher Stormi Grzybek injured her elbow and shoulder nearly a month ago during the final weekend of tournament play.
Junior Laura Fountain, who had been starting at third base, took Grzybek’s place 12 games ago. Freshman Kourtney Salvarola filled the void at third with junior Janine Richardson moving from centerfield to shortstop.
“Laura Fountain is probably going to be the unsung hero for the whole year,” Eriksen said. “She has absolutely stepped it up.”
Pitching to Fountain are freshman Sara Nevins and jun- ior Lindsey Richardson, who combined for 70 strikeouts and 10 walks during the win streak. Nevins is 4-0 during the streak with an ERA at 0.10, while Richardson is 5-0 with an ERA of 0.80. Brittany Bowles earned the one other victory. Nevins currently has seven saves and needs only one more to break the school record for saves in a season.